Distanced Thanksgiving Ideas (with free recipe cards!)

Autumn recipe card printable from Lellobird
Giving Thanks from Afar

Normally my Thanksgiving post might be filled with tips to make your day less stressful (have a fun activity to keep kids busy! – omg, having them make butter is genius – just screw the lid on tight!) or ideas for thoughtful hostess gifts (tea towels, anyone?).

But this year Thanksgiving, like everything else, looks different. Doctors cautioned last week that one of the most important things we can do to help contain the virus in the coming weeks is to forego Thanksgiving travel and gatherings.

Staying home doesn’t mean we can’t still embrace the spirit of community and, well, thankfulness. There are ways to stay connected even while staying apart.

Of course there’s the good old Zoom option, bringing everyone together virtually. But how about exchanging recipes with family and friends who can’t be at the table this year, so you can make some of each other’s favorites and all sit down to the same meals, even if you can’t be at the same table?

I made up these fall-themed recipe cards you can share with your friends and family. Ask them to write a favorite recipe – maybe it’s a Thanksgiving tradition, or maybe it’s a way to use up leftover turkey, or a breakfast they like to serve when they have a crowd in the house, or a favorite comfort food. At the top they can write their name, and at the bottom something they’re thankful for. Then you can send the cards to the group you wish you could have around your table. Sending a pretty packet of cards to each person by mail is nice, because getting mail is such a treat (and the Post Office could use our support), but you could also scan or photograph the cards and share them digitally. The important part is that everyone gets a copy of all the recipes so they can play along from home.

If you want to get fancy, package up the cards with some tools for celebrating Thanksgiving at home – pretty napkins, some spices, or even the ingredients for your favorite pumpkin bread or a drink you can all toast with virtually – and send them (or drop them off on porches, if you’re local) along with the recipe cards and an invite to Zoom in for Thanksgiving dinner.

Want some more ideas for socially-distanced Thanksgiving fun?

  • Print out these Thanksgiving Question Cards from Alice & Lois and ask your guests, near and far, to answer thought-provoking questions like their funniest Thanksgiving memory, least favorite food, who they’d like at the table next year and more.
  • Have a Thanksgiving movie night – either curled up on the couch with your pod or virtually with friends and family from afar. You could watch a new movie you didn’t get to see in theatres, an animated movie the whole family will love, a kooky holiday classic or old home movies — or get a head start on all those Hallmark Christmas movies.
  • Include a blank thank you card and pre-stamped envelope in your care package and ask everyone to write a note to someone who made a difference in their lives and mail it. (Can you tell I’m reading The Thank-You Project right now?)
  • I love this idea from Connecticut Children’s Hospital: “Paint rocks with images and messages that inspire gratitude. On Thanksgiving Day, take a trail walk to work off that turkey, and set the rocks in special places to surprise other hikers.” Someone has been leaving little painted rocks around my neighborhood and it’s such a joy to discover them on our daily walks. You just might brighten the day of someone else in your community, even if you don’t make a face-to-face connection.

Have a happy, healthy Thanksgiving! We’re in this together (apart)!

P.S. The recipe I used in the cover photo is a Thanksgiving favorite in our house: Sweet Potato Rolls. It was originally from southernfood.about.com but I couldn’t find the recipe online; you’ll find my slightly modified version below the download.

This printable is free for your personal, non-commercial use – just sign up for my newsletter (also free, and I promise not to spam you, and if you’re already on my list it won’t double you up!) to download the PDF:

Autumn Recipe Cards

A page containing two 4x6" recipe cards with an autumn leaf design.


Sweet Potato Rolls
1/4 cup warm water
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (aka 1 pkg)
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1-1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
5 Tbsp butter
2 sweet potatoes, peeled, steamed and mashed really well
1 tsp lemon juice
1 egg, beaten
5-7 cups flour

  1. Combine warm water with yeast (and a pinch of sugar) and set aside to proof.
  2. Scald the milk.
  3. Add the salt, cinnamon and butter to scalded milk and stir until butter is melted.
  4. Pour milk mixture over mashed sweet potatoes in a large bowl.
  5. Add lemon juice to the mixture then beat until smooth. Let cool to lukewarm.
  6. Add egg and yeast to mixture and blend well.
  7. Stir in 2 cups flour; beat at medium speed 3 minutes. Add additional flour to make a stiff dough.
  8. Turn out and knead until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if needed.
  9. Let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
  10. Punch down and knead. Shape into 24 round rolls and place in greased 8″ round cake pans.
  11. Let rise until doubled again, about another hour.
  12. Bake at 400º F for 15-20 minutes, until golden.